The stage was set Friday when we revealed Liberty-Eylau will begin the season ranked No. 1 overall in the ETSN.fm Class 4A Poll. Here's the followthrough.

Steve Wells' Leopards squad returns unbelievable talent across the board, including three players that enter the 2015 season with FBS scholarship opportunities in athlete Ke'Mon Freeman, defensive back Andre Wiley Jr. and defensive end Lagaryonn Carson. The team can even bask in state expectations until game prep for Gilmer begins Monday ahead of an intriguing game Thursday.

Liberty-Eylau is flat out the team to beat in District 7-4A Division I.

However, there are plenty of league teams that intend on doing just that. Pittsburg is one, and the Pirates will be joined in the chase by Princeton and Paris as pushy teams fresh off their own playoff appearances.

No doubt this is the most competitive district top-to-bottom in Region II of the Class 4A Division I circuit.

Five teams appear capable of getting in. But only four spots are available.

Is Pittsburg in or out with new head coach Brad Baca? And who has the best chance of taking the air out of Liberty-Eylau's sails?

It's all just below.

District 7-4A Division I Preview

Pittsburg senior running back Fre'Zarrian Harrison. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB/LB Roman Aguillon, Sr., Quinlan Ford
  • QB Quez Allen, Sr., Paris
  • QB Brian Baca, Sr., Pittsburg
  • WR/DB Diarva Brown, Sr., Paris
  • RB/LB Lamont Byrd, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • OL/DL Nathan Capers, Sr., Pittsburg
  • DL Lagaryonn Carson, Jr., Liberty-Eylau
  • RB/LB Ashton Chaffin, Sr., Paris North Lamar
  • QB/LB Colt Collins, Sr., Princeton
  • DL Klayton Drake, Sr., Paris North Lamar
  • RB/LB George Flores, Sr., Princeton
  • ATH Ke'Mon Freeman, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • RB/LB Fre'zarian Harrison, Sr., Pittsburg
  • ATH Billy Kimble, Sr., Pittsburg
  • WR/DB Thurman Morbley, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • LB Demarcus Pegue II, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • RB Dren Rollerson, Sr., Paris
  • RB/DB Tray Walker, Sr., Pittsburg
  • DB Andre Wiley Jr., Sr., Liberty-Eylau

TOP GAMES

  • Paris at Liberty-Eylau, Oct. 9
  • Pittsburg at Paris North Lamar, Oct. 9
  • Liberty-Eylau at Pittsburg, Oct. 16
  • Paris at Princeton, Oct. 16
  • Pittsburg at Princeton, Oct. 30
  • Princeton at Liberty-Eylau, Nov. 6

 

1. Liberty-Eylau Leopards

Liberty-Eylau junior defensive end Lagaryonn Carson. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Steve Wells
  • 2014 finish: 8-6 (4A D-I regional finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Ke'Mon Freeman, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • DL Lagaryonn Carson, Jr., 6-5, 255
  • DB Andre Wiley Jr., Sr., 5-10, 180
  • WR/DB Thurman Morbley, Sr., 6-0, 166
  • RB/LB Lamont Byrd, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • LB Demarcus Pegue II, Sr., 5-10, 217
  • OL Franklin Smith II, Jr., 6-4, 279
  • RB/DB Arymis Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 188
  • DB Denzel Green, Sr.

 

Liberty-Eylau quarterback and safety Ke'Mon Freeman. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: When you've got Ke'Mon Freeman on your side, you're going to be just fine. Freeman holds offers from Arkansas State, North Texas and SMU, and he's looking for more with a stellar senior campaign. He's built like an SEC safety and will serve a purpose on the Leopards' defense, but he has shown he can be a good quarterback on the next level if he wants to go to a lower level Division I school. Freeman isn't the only player on this side of the ball going for college football opportunities. Receiver Thurman Morbley and No. 1 running back Lamont Byrd also are dreaming as seniors. Combined, they're great building blocks to form a multi-pronged attack around Freeman's own athleticism. Maybe this is the year for junior tackle Franklin Smith as well. He's 6-foot-4 and 279 pounds. There are six holes to fill on offense, as only five returning starters are back from last year's Region II championship game team, but there's plenty of athleticism around for head coach Steve Wells to choose from. This unit is dangerous.

 

Liberty-Eylau defensive back Andre Wiley Jr. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It's ridiculous for a Class 4A Division I program. Many Class 6A programs ought to be jealous. He's not the absolute headliner, but something has to be said about senior defensive back Andre Wiley Jr., who holds six offers. Army and Navy don't throw around invitations willy-nilly, and Wiley is one of their targets for the current class. You name a mental quality, Wiley has it and can serve the team well as a leader. The headliner is blue chip junior defensive end Lagaryonn Carson. At this point, colleges outside of the national championship hunt aren't even trying anymore. The best thing about him is the Leopards will get him back for the 2016 campaign. Liberty-Eylau's defenders look like they're tied together on a string. They're always in position to throw more than one tackler at the ball carrier. Chemistry should be there from the get-go. In total, the Leopards bring back eight starters for strengths at each layer of the unit.

2015 outlook: There's a lot of optimism in the community that this is a state contender. On paper, it's a state championship quality team. Unfortunately for the Leopards, Region II is stacked. Argyle --whom Liberty-Eylau lost to in the regional championship game last season by three points -- brings back about half of its team. Athens, Van, Kennedale and even other programs in the district look like teams that can survive long-term in the playoffs. However, the Leopards are absolutely loaded defensively and have a nice offensive core. The team controls its own destiny. It's shocking considering Liberty-Eylau is one of the smallest schools in the classification. Consider this, Princeton has three times as many students to choose from for its team and every single other team in the league has at least 373 more students.

2. Paris Wildcats

  • Coach: Steven Hohenberger
  • 2014 finish: 8-5 (4A D-I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Quez Allen, Sr., 6-3, 212
  • RB Dren Rollerson, Sr., 5-8, 190
  • WR/DB Diarva Brown, Sr., 5-10, 156
  • DL Ty Gray, Sr., 5-10, 162
  • OL Dakota Helm, Sr., 6-0, 246
  • RB/WR Jakerion Brown, Jr., 5-6, 147

 

2015 outlook: Assuming Paris can live up to at least a second-place finish in the district, there's going to be some room to run in the playoffs. The adjacent District 8-4A Division I just isn't as deep. Senior quarterback Quez Allen turned in a phenomenal junior campaign as a dual-threat. He nearly single-handedly took down Liberty-Eylau last year in the regular season. But the Leopards got the last laugh by eliminating the Wildcats in the regional semifinal round of the playoffs. Paris returns 12 starters this season, so it's safe to expect more of the same out of it this year. If the nine newcomers gel with what the Wildcats have, the team can make a similarly strong run while skipping out on Argyle and Kennedale before District 7-4A Division I starts cannibalize itself in the third round. From there, who knows.

3. Princeton Panthers

  • Coach: Lee Wilkins
  • 2014 finish: 7-4 (4A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB George Flores, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • QB/LB Colt Collins, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • WR/TE/DL Brandon Talley, Sr., 6-3, 205
  • TE/DL Dylan Templeman, Jr., 6-2, 255
  • WR/DB Sandavion Matthews, Sr., 6-0, 155

 

2015 outlook: With experience and an especially solid offensive core retuning, it easily could be Princeton making the most surprising run in the district. The Panthers have a league-best 17 starters coming back from a bi-district round team -- what they would consider a surprising loss to Kaufman in their 11th game of the year. Senior running back George Flores won first-team all-district honors last season and Colt Collins is back in play at quarterback. With nine total starters back on this offensive side of the play, you know offensive line play will be consistent as well. Princeton was very competitive last season. Don't expect much to change.

4. Pittsburg Pirates

Pittsburg senior quarterback Brian Baca. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Brad Baca
  • 2014 finish: 4-7(4A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Fre'Zarian Harrison, Sr., 6-0, 220
  • QB Brian Baca, Sr., 5-10, 181
  • WR Billy Kimble, Sr., 5-11, 167
  • OL/DL Nathan Capers, Sr., 6-4, 250
  • RB/DB Tray Walker, Sr., 5-5, 156
  • WR Dejour Dowell, Jr., 6-1, 185
  • RB/DB Hugo Fluellen, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • WR/DL Quinton Edney, Sr.

 

Pittsburg junior receiver Dejour Dowell. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Pittsburg's offense could look a tad different this season with two Bacas roaming the sideline. Brad Baca will begin his first year as the Pirates head coach after a very successful stint as offensive coordinator at Chapel Hill. Senior quarterback Brian Baca also joined the program during the offseason after a nice career at Cleburne High School and now will show what he can do against Northeast Texas competition. Brian Baca's presence pushed a great athlete in senior Billy Kimble to receiver, and Kimble is a player you can build an offense around. Dejour Dowell is a big target and gives the passing game an obvious one-two punch. Fre'Zarian Harrison headlines a strong group of running backs while Tray Walker can flex between running back and receiver. If Pittsburg gets its offensive line sorted out, the whole unit could be electric. That'd be a good thing because the team leaned on its defense too much last season.

Pittsburg senior defensive end Quinton Edney. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Eight starters are back from last year's team, so things would have been looking up regardless of wether the Baca family entered the mix or not. The defense averaged a borderline winnable 32.3 points through all 11 games last season and held district opponents to 19.6 points. The line is a clear strength with nose tackle Alex Carlock, Quinton Edney and E.J. Hill back. There will be plenty of athletes at the linebacker and secondary spots and, more than that, they're proven athletes.

2015 outlook: Pittsburg is another team that could surprise the district, but they'll have to go a farther way than Princeton to pull it off. The offense had issues last year and we haven't seen exactly what Pittsburg is capable of in a live game despite positive preseason signs. The Pirates certainly will be tested heading into district play. They open the season Friday against Pleasant Grove and then continue a non-district schedule consisting of Gladewater, New Boston, Atlanta and Mount Vernon. Within the league, wins against Paris North Lamar and Quinlan Ford would really help the cause. The Paris North Lamar game is the Pirates district opener and can help set a tone for the rest of the season.

5. Paris North Lamar Panthers

  • Coach: Tim Billings
  • 2014 finish: 6-4
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • LB Klayton Dake, Sr., 6-1, 210
  • RB/LB Ashton Chaffin, Sr., 6-1, 165
  • QB/DB Versache Buchanan, Sr., 5-11, 155

2015 outlook: North Lamar turned in a 6-4 overall record last season, but a loss to Pittsburg on opening night of district play paired with defeats against Liberty-Eylau and Paris teams finding their strides late in the regular season sealed their fate. However, it was a dramatic improvement from the 2-8 season suffered in 2013. Credit head coach TIm Billings for getting the ball rolling. There's an awful lot of talent ahead of the Panthers in the projected district rankings, but it's not unfathomable Billings and company get over the hump this season. North Lamar's district-opening game against Pittsburg is probably the biggest district game for any of the league teams on the schedule.

6. Quinland Ford Panthers

  • Coach: Todd Wallace
  • 2014 finish: 0-10
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Roman Aguillon, Sr., 5-9, 160

 

2015 outlook: Experience counts and Quinland Ford has it with 14 returning starters. But both offense and defense have a long way to go if they want to dance in November. The team averaged 16.6 points in district games to 38.4 points surrendered. Senior running back Roman Aguillon broke 1,000 yards in the 10-game season and the line is in decent shape in terms of experience. That's a good starting place. It's always a long way back from 0-10 though.